Caruana Galizia public inquiry: location data for Cardona's mobile phone in Germany inconclusive

The Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry receives a technical report on geolocation data for Chris Cardona's mobile phone while on official government business in Germany in January 2017 when the journalist alleged he had visited a brothel

The public inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder is tasked among others to determine whether the State did enough to prevent the murder and protect the journalist
The public inquiry into Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder is tasked among others to determine whether the State did enough to prevent the murder and protect the journalist

Updated at 11:41am with Chris Cardona's reaction

A technical analysis of geolocation data for Chris Cardona's mobile phone cannot conclude with precision whether the former minister was at a conference or a brothel, while in Germany in January 2017.

The analysis was presented today to the public inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The expert only had information from one cell tower which was close to the German city of Essen, where the conference had taken place.

He explained that the data from the tower could have placed Cardona’s mobile phone in either Essen or Velbert, where the journalist alleged he had attended the Acapulco brothel with an aide.

The expert explained that he would need information from three cell towers to arrive at a more precise location for the mobile phones through a process known as triangulation.

Cardona reacts

Reacting soon after the testimony, Chris Cardona said the data came from a tower that was some 2-3km north of Essen, while the distance between the city and Velbert is approximately 20km. "There are other antennae close to Velbert, so how can one assume that while the phone was connected to an antenna closer to Essen it could also have been close to Velbert. There’s a distance of 17km with other antennae in between," Cardona said.

The former minister has always denied being present at the brothel as alleged in Caruana Galizia's blog.

Hacking attempt on blog

The public inquiry also heard an IT expert testify how in February 2017, some 10 days after the journalist wrote about the Cardona brothel incident, his company handled a very particular hacking attempt on Caruana Galizia’s blog.

The expert said the individuals behind the attack tried to pose as Caruana Galizia, asking for information on how to access the blog by fishing for details.

Had the individuals obtained the information they asked for they could have potentially had access to Caruana Galizia’s sources.

The blog later sustained a more sophisticated denial of service attack.

The inquiry continued behind closed doors.

10:38 We will wrap up this blog. Thank you for following. Kurt Sansone
10:35 The inquiry is continuing behind closed doors. Kurt Sansone
10:30 The judges order the press out of the room. Kurt Sansone
10:29 Castillo steps down from the witness stand. Kurt Sansone
10:29 Therese Comodini Cachia says the date of the attack is important because it is significantly close to the Chris Cardona matter - it happened 10 days later. Kurt Sansone
10:28 Castillo says it takes a professional criminal to carry out such an attack. “It's a resource intensive attack. I reported the issue immediately to Daphne Caruana Galizia, who engaged a lawyer and I believe that she filed a police report about the matter.” Kurt Sansone
10:27 Another attack on her website was a DDoS (distributed denial of service) which crashes her web server with bogus traffic. Kurt Sansone
10:26 He adds: “This was a targeted specific attack. I've been in this industry for 20 years... handled many ordinary hacking attempts. This was the only case I remember where we had social engineering. Someone did research to try and get information before the attack.” Kurt Sansone
10:26 Castillo says that this attack could have "potentially led to the identification of her sources". Kurt Sansone
10:25 He says that had they succeeded, they would have sent an email on behalf of Daphne and received an email from her and cloned her website and published any information they had wanted to. Kurt Sansone
10:24 What is significant is that it is not a standard hacking attempt. Castillo says this wasn't bots trying to penetrate defences, this was a person who knew people's names and email addresses. They were asking for DNS servers and other records. They were looking for the details to change the URL Kurt Sansone
10:23 The report is very technical as it needed a lot of detail. His company, which handled the blog, had received an email on 11 February 2017 asking how to access the blog. The email purported to come from Caruana Galizia but was "spoofed" and was a social engineering attack, he says. Kurt Sansone
10:21 Therese Comodini Cachia asks about a report he had been asked to draw up by Daphne Caruana Galizia and asks him to explain it in simple terms. Kurt Sansone
10:21 Ian Castillo now takes the stand to present a report on the hacking of Running Commentary, Caruana Galizia’s blog. Kurt Sansone
10:20 After answering some questions on the copies of the report, the witness steps off the stand. Kurt Sansone
10:19 QUICK RECAP: The expert report is based on the geolocation data from one cell tower in Germany. The information can put Cardona’s mobile phone in both Essen, where the conference was held, and Velbert, where he allegedly went to a brothel. The expert says to have a more accurate location for the mobile phones, he would need to have information from three cell towers, which would allow triangulation of data. The reference is to ‘mobile phones’ because these concern one that belonged to Cardona and another that belonged to his aide. Kurt Sansone
10:11 The logs are for 31 January 2017, from 2pm to 7pm. The mobile phones were continuously connected to that antenna, at least for six hours, he adds. Kurt Sansone
10:10 The expert says: "On the basis of probability, I find no technical reason why not... I daresay the connection was 1-2km from the antenna. We're talking almost metres. The problem is not where the antenna is but the triangulation... you'd need 3 antennae for that accuracy." Kurt Sansone
10:10 Azzopardi quotes Daphne Caruana Galizia’s blog that the conference for which Cardona and his aide attended was in Essen, spread over one-and-a-half days. Kurt Sansone
10:03 When you have two mobiles hitting the same antenna, they are typically very close to each other, within a 20km range, he explains. Kurt Sansone
10:03 The expert indicates that the mobile phones could have been in Velbert just as much as in Essen. He says that Velbert is exactly south of the antenna, while Essen is Southwest. This means that the antenna had a max range of 100km as there was no city in the way. The phone was Kurt Sansone
10:00 QUICK REMINDER: The issue concerns a story written by Daphne Caruana Galizia in January 2017, when she alleged that Chris Cardona and his aide had gone to a brothel in Velbert, while on official government work. Caruana Galizia claimed that she had a source at the brothel who gave her the information. Cardona and his aide denied the allegations and filed for libel, even pre-emptively blocking the journalist’s bank accounts. During the course of the libel the geolocation data of the mobile phones was requested and secured. However, the libel case never ran its full course. The data that was kept under lock and key in court was requested by the public inquiry. Kurt Sansone
09:57 Lawyer Jason Azzopardi thumps his fist on the table triumphantly. Kurt Sansone
09:57 The expert replies that the tower is 2-3km north of Essen, not far from Velbert. "It is definitely within a reasonable range," he says. Kurt Sansone
09:56 Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia asks what area is covered by the cell tower in question. Kurt Sansone
09:55 One antenna had connections from the mobile phones of the subjects continually for two days, but the expert was unable to triangulate the exact position because only one antenna was connected to the phones. Kurt Sansone
09:54 The report concerns the geolocation of former minister Chris Cardona’s mobile phone in Germany at the beginning of 2017 during an official visit. The report is final although some data is still expected from service providers. This is because it is unlikely that they will receive any feedback due to the passage of time and data retention policies. Kurt Sansone
09:52 The judges enter the courtroom and the first witness is called. IT Expert Keith Cutajar takes the stand and presents a technical report. Kurt Sansone
09:50 Good morning. Kurt Sansone

In the last session, murder middleman Melvin Theuma testified how his life had ended with Caruana Galizia's murder.

The inquiry is tasked, among others, to determine whether the State did all it can to prevent the murder from happening.

The inquiry is led by retired judge Michael Mallia, former chief justice Joseph Said Pullicino and Judge Abigail Lofaro.

Caruana Galizia was murdered in a car bomb just outside her Bidnija house on 16 October 2017. Three men, George Degiorgio, Alfred Degiorgio and Vince Muscat, have been charged with carrying out the assassination, while Yorgen Fenech is charged with masterminding the murder.

Melvin Theuma, who acted as a middleman between Fenech and the three killers, was granted a presidential pardon last year to tell all.